MARIETTA – South Forsyth volleyball followed the formula for a big-time, momentous volleyball match. It brought a fan bus from school with enough students to fill the visitor’s student section at Walton. It brought parents and friends, school administrators and coaches, a homemade flag and posterboard signs.
But top-seeded Walton followed the formula it has the past three seasons, overwhelming the fourth-seeded Lady War Eagles with talented and powerful hitters from all areas of the court to end South’s season with a 25-15, 25-15, 25-9 loss Wednesday in the Class AAAAAA semifinals.
The Lady Raiders advanced to their fifth consecutive state title appearance and will play Chattahoochee, a 3-2 winner over Johns Creek, on Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Marietta High School.
South saw what was arguably the best season ever by a Forsyth County team come to an end. The Lady War Eagles won a program-record 49 matches, spent the season ranked in the top 5 and reached the semifinals for the first time in school history.
“We’ve been trying to build to this point,” South coach Kelly Wren said. “Every year we’ve gotten a step closer. [The seniors] may be leaving after this season, but everything that comes after them is because of the sacrifice they made to make volleyball matter to the county, to South Forsyth.”
“I am so proud,” senior outside hitter Rachel Croce said. “We’ve all worked so hard the past four years. Even in middle school. We’ve all been together, and this game has pretty much has been about making the most of it and enjoying what we had together.”
South hoped its quarterfinals victory over Harrison, a team built like Walton with strong outside hitters, portended good things to come. Indeed, Walton relied heavily on University of Dayton commit Jessica Sloan and Lindsay Seagraves from the left and right, particularly Sloan who put down powerful kills into South’s back row of Croce, Hannah Shanley and Tory Wright.
But the diversity and complexity of Walton’s attack was unlike Harrison. The Lady War Eagles fell behind 7-1 to start Game 1 and never recovered. They stayed within striking distance in Game 2, trailing 16-13 before Walton went on a 6-1 run to seize control.
Then Walton put South away with a dominant 13-1 run in the middle of Game 3 to increase its lead from 8-5 to 21-6. Seagraves had four kills, Sloan had three, Landon added a kill and sophomore setter Celeste Fitzgerald had a deft tap, a stretch of volleyball that put all of Walton’s finest qualities on display.
“Having won state three times in a row and being in their home gym just fueled their fire,” Croce said. “They were very experienced. They all are so talented. We can keep our heads up, because they’re a very good team.”
After Sloan pounded the set-clinching kill on to the court, the Lady War Eagles shook hands with Walton and retreated to a hallway underneath the gymnasium bleachers. Standing in a circle, Wren spoke to the team, this team, one final time. Soon they filed out one by one back on to the court where a school and community waited for them.
South proved itself to be a very good team, too, over the course of an unprecedented season, one it hopes has changed the trajectory of the program.
“This is something that they (Walton) are expected to do,” Wren said. “We’re just happy to be here. That expectation’s not there yet for us.
“It will be. We’re building that step by step.”